Originally Posted by jonmhenderson
To me, traditional bbq does not have a smoked flavor, per se, from the burning of wood. In traditional bbq, wood was always burned down to coals in a separate pit, then the coals were shoveled under the meat. The smoke flavor was kin to the flavor you get from grilling; a fat dripping in the fire flavor. That flavor can get real strong real quick in a closed pit, so most of the time those pits were open topped. The burning of a live wood fire in an offset firebox is a fairly modern invention comparitively, and while the flavor can be tasty if an immaculately clean fire is burned, it's not really that old time flavor. The one exception could be mesquite, where even the burning down to coals doesn't really get rid of all of the resins in the wood! :-)
The idea that using wood coals so pure that they burn with little or even no wood smoke is desirable (mentioned earlier by stepandfetch) is one of the things that makes this thread really interesting. Right now I'm almost married to idea that it's good to have coal, some sort of flavoring wood (for most meats) and fat or drippings smoke going for me in the same cook, but maybe that will change. The idea that meat can get too much fat smoke
(!) is perhaps the hardest thing to wrap my head around, so great is my prejudice in favor of it.
Now my vertical smoker is modified to work like a UDS, that is, all the seams between the intakes and the vents have been tightened and there are three 3/4 inch holes centered on top of the dome for venting, which stay completely open during a cook. So it's a "closed" pit, but on the other hand smoke flows freely up and through and doesn't seem to have a chance to "congregate" much in the dome on top. Yet still, it's possible that too much fat smoke is settling on the meat...I'll have to continue contemplating this...